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White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Monday pushed back against CNN White House Correspondent Jim Acosta’s assertion that President Donald Trump has not adequately addressed allegations that Russia placed “bounties” on American soldiers in Afghanistan.
“Does the president, or the administration, plan to make it very clear to the Russian Federation that there should not be bounties placed on the heads of American soldiers serving in Afghanistan?” Acosta asked.
Press Sec. Kayleigh McEnany: "No one's been tougher on Russia" than President Trump. pic.twitter.com/qdkSOKNUJT
— The Hill (@thehill) July 13, 2020
“We make that clear each and every day to every country around the world that this president will always stand by our law enforcement,” McEnany began. “No one’s been tougher on Russia…”
Acosta interjected, “Not…not law enforcement, I’m talking about military soldiers, U.S. forces overseas.”
“Of course, that’s what I’m saying,” McEnany responded. “Our U.S. forces.”
“Not just any country, the Russians,” Acosta interrupted once more. “Will you tell President Putin not to put bounties on the heads of American soldiers?”
“What you’re getting at … of course, we tell each and every country that,” McEnany continued. “But what you’re getting at is uncorroborated intelligence and you’re treating it as if it were true.
“To this day, there are varying views on the Russian bounty intelligence,” the White House spokeswoman continued, noting that the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies have all noted that.
“I’m not gonna answer a question based on unverified intelligence, but rest assured,” she insisted forcefully, “every country in this world is put on notice that bounties on the heads of U.S. troops is unacceptable, and this president will stand for U.S. troops, at home and abroad.”
Late last month, The New York Times reported that intelligence officials reported on the alleged bounty program, adding that President Trump was briefed about it in March.
The bounties were “believed to have resulted in the deaths of several U.S. service members,” the Washington Post noted further.
The Times claimed that the intel was placed in the President’s Daily Brief, adding that, at the time, the National Security Council discussed the findings.
In a June 28 tweet, President Trump denied he’d been briefed in response to a tweet from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), writing, “Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or @VP. Possibly another fabricated Russia Hoax, maybe by the Fake News @nytimesbooks, wanting to make Republicans look bad!!!”
Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), who served in Afghanistan between 2014-2015 as a member of the U.S. Naval Reserve, expressed anger over the alleged bounties after attending a White House briefing last month — but not just over the program. He also blasted the Times for reporting it, thus endangering any ongoing investigation.
“Having served in Afghanistan during the time the alleged bounties were placed, no one is angrier about this than me,” he tweeted. “Now it’s impossible to finish the investigation. All b/c the @nytimes will do anything to damage @realdonaldtrump, even if it means compromising nat’l security. The blood is on their hands.”
The Pentagon pushed back on the Times report, saying there was “no corroborating evidence” to support the claim that Taliban fighters in Afghanistan received bounty payments from Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU.
“To date, DOD has no corroborating evidence to validate the recent allegations found in open-source reports,” Jonathan Hoffman, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement.
Last week, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, no friend of the Trump administration, blasted the “almost hysterical” media coverage over the alleged bounty program.
In an interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, Powell said U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan were unconcerned about it.
“What I know is that our military commanders on the ground did not think that it was as serious a problem as the newspapers were reporting and television was reporting,” he said.
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